We have a number of studies exploring various aspects of early word learning. One of our primary questions is how children learn to understand words. One major difficulty for word understanding is the fact that words sound different every time they are pronounced. Think about hearing the word "dog" spoken by a man vs. a woman, or by someone who is happy vs. sad, or even by people who have different accents than you do. Sometimes these variations in pronunciation are small, but often they are quite large. In order to recognize words and not be confused, listeners need to know when to pay attention to differences in pronunciation and when to ignore them.
In some of our studies, we teach children new words and see what they remember later about the words, or we see whether they notice when we change the pronunciations of words they are already familiar with. Our goal in these studies is to see when children decide that a new pronunciation is a familiar word and when they decide that it is a new word. To answer these questions, we measure children's interest in various visual displays while they are listening to spoken words and sentences.
We are also interested in what types of information children might use to figure out what words mean. In these studies, we look at how children might use the pronunciations of words, other speech cues like disfluencies (things like “um” and “uhh”), or information in the environment (like the sorts of objects in the scene) to determine what someone is talking about. In these studies, children may watch visual display while different words and sentences are presented, or they may play a game with an experimenter in which they learn about different objects.
If you are interested in participating, we would love to hear from you!